In an autumn ritual, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once more arrives in New York this week. The Iranian president’s usual media tours and bombastic speeches are likely to be sprinkled with hints of moderation on Iran’s contested nuclear program. On his sixth trip to the United Nations, Ahmadinejad is likely to find an international community more confident that its forceful economic sanctions have finally made Tehran appreciate the cost of its belligerence. A closer look, however, reveals that the calculations of Iran’s principal protagonists — Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — are largely unaffected by mounting financial penalties imposed by the West. After three decades of wrestling with the Islamic Republic, Washington and its allies still fail to realize that they are not dealing with a conventional nation-state making subtle estimates of national interests.
The essence of Washington’s approach is that confronted with a choice of debilitating isolation or rejoining the community of nations, Iran will eventually make the “right” decision. The Islamic Republic, however, is too wedded to its ideological verities and too subsumed by its rivalries to engage in such judicious determinations.